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diary of a sofer - part 2

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Those of you who read the last thrilling installment are probably expecting to hear about the mezuzah was asked to prepare. However, before one leaps into such an endeavour, one must practice one’s letter forms and some serious research needs to be undertaken, not least of which is how to make ink.

Vivian had given me a small jam jar of d'yo kosher ink made by a master sofer, but whilst many scribes buy their ink from others a good scribe should really know how to make their own. One recipe (there are several) calls for iron sulphate crystals and tannic acid. Vivian told me that I could get them at the chemist, so I went to the one around the corner. "I know this might sound a bit odd", I say to the pharmacist, "but I would like to buy some Iron Sulphate and Tannic acid". He informs me that it is now illegal to buy such chemicals over the counter as I might be making a bomb! I tell him that I want to make ink and he suggests I go to a printer. "There isn’t a lot of call for it nowadays", he says as I leave. He’s probably right.

Undaunted, I make my way to another chemists, a bit further away. ‘Ahhah’, I think as I spot the elderly lady behind the counter sporting a huge gold Magen David - ‘at least she might understand’. A few minutes later, I leave the shop arranging to pick up 500 gms of Iron Sulphate the next morning. I only need 10gms to make my first batch, so it looks like I’ll be making a lot of ink. Tannic acid was proving more difficult and the pharmacist promises to look into it for me. At least this one didn’t think I was a dangerous terrorist!

Gallnuts

The most important ingredient however, is the humble afatsa (gallnut) made from the sting of the gall-wasp on an oak tree. I only had three, given to me at my first lesson, and I needed to find many more. It wasn’t for several weeks until after I had found a good source in the local park, that I had amassed the four ounces that I needed.

Ink bottle
Not so demented squirrel

Even this was not without its perils as on one occasion we had to face the wrath of a demented squirrel, arching its back and hissing at us as it defended his nuts whilst we gathered ours. My son who accompanied us enjoyed his run around the park and was clearly one of the very few (at the time) three year-olds for whom the word ‘gallnut’ features prominently in his vocabulary.

The second pharmacist never called back about the Tannic acid. Perhaps he had decided I was a raving militant revolutionary after all. However Tesco’s came to the rescue - isn’t it amazing what you can get from a supermarket these days!

Next installment, writing the mezuzah... promise.

Mordechai Pinchas

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